By Zoey Di Mauro
WASHINGTON –- Last week, among those gathered in the nation’s capital to celebrate Independence Day were Catholic choirs from all around the world.
The Vatican’s official group of children singers, Pueri Cantores, met in Washington for their 38th International Congress. Choirs traveled from as far away as Poland and India to sing at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and other Catholics churches for the July 3-7 festival.
It began in the afternoon of July 3 with the opening ceremony and procession of the flags at the national shrine.
“It’s gonna be thrilling,” Lee Gwozdz, one of the conductors, told Catholic News Service before the festivities officially began. “It’s like the Olympics but without all the special effects.” Wearing brightly colored shirts announcing their nationalities, each choir grouped together in the pews and sang as representatives carried their homeland’s flag into the sanctuary.
In addition, the Pueri Cantores choirs sang for the Independence Day Parade on the Fourth and the next morning day at the Jefferson Memorial the next morning for their Prayer for Peace ceremony and at St. Patrick’s Church later that day.
“Our motto is ‘May the children may join together and sing the peace of God,’” said Pat Flahive, from Covina, Calif, who is president of the federation’s American branch. “We always include the prayer of peace — songs and a reflection on Christ’s call for peace.
The International Federation of Pueri Cantores was founded in France in 1944 to promote unity.
“As these nations would gather together they would be instruments of peace, the singers would get to know kids from other countries, they would not be as insular and perhaps world wars would not be as prominent,” said Father Tom Franzman, chairman of the board of American Federation Pueri Cantores. He was part of the first group of American singers to go to an international congress, held around New Year’s in Rome, 1960-61.
“In St. Peter’s some little Italians kids who were with us asked where we were from and their immediate response was ‘Chicago? Al Capone — bang bang bang!’” recalled Father Franzman, who is provost of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.
Of this year’s singers, he said, “I think they’re all very excited. I remember myself I was very excited.”
Pueri Cantores is made up of about 40,000 youth and children in hundreds of choirs composed of boys and girls, ages 9 through 18, throughout the world; around 800 singers attended this congress in Washington.
The choirs all raised the money to travel to the nation’s capital.
“We provide whatever we can but we’re just happy they could scrape up enough money to come here and be with us,” said Father Franzman. In addition, each choir learned select pieces for the Congress. “It’s sacred hits for this age group,” said Gwozdz. “Its music accessible to all children’s choirs to take home to their own churches.”
Officially endorsed by Vatican in 1965, the international federation is part of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The American federation was founded in 1953 and has grown to include more than 250 choirs from 72 U.S. dioceses. The organization hosts music festivals throughout the U.S. during the year.
Gwozdz, of Corpus Christi, Texas, has been involved in church music since he was in second grade; eight years ago he joined Pueri Cantores.
“Music has a power to bring people back to the church; it gives them a taste of what heaven would be like,” he said. “Many young parents have children that sing at church but more importantly they bring their parents back to the church.”
“The musical traditions of the universal church are a treasure of inestimable value,” said Flahive “especially sung music is an illumination the word of God; it’s a great and powerful way of bringing Christ deeply into our hearts and the hearts of our listeners.”
Check out a CNS video story on the Pueri Cantores festival in Washington.